U.S. Air Force Secretary Michael Donley told lawmakers March 6 that the service is not sure what it will do with the money it saves by cutting the RQ-4 Global Hawk Block 30 aircraft and moving 18 of the $215 million unmanned aircraft into storage.
Bipartisan members of the U.S. House Appropriations defense subcommittee took turns grilling Donley and Chief of Staff Gen. Norton Schwartz on the decision to cut the surveillance aircraft, saying that Congress had already authorized the funds for a program that officials originally said was essential to national security.
“The American people are going to have a hard time understanding this ... we need ISR [intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance] dramatically and the idea of this really bothers me,” subcommittee ranking member Rep. Norm Dicks, D-Wash., said. “I don’t care about who manufactures them. ... I’m worried about we already bought them and we need to find some way to get some utilization out of them.”
The Air Force had planned to buy 42 Block 30 aircraft. The program, however, was cut in the proposed fiscal 2013 budget because of the high cost to buy and maintain the aircraft; officials said the long-standing U-2 program would be able to complete the ISR mission. The service expects to save $2.5 billion in the Future Years Defense Program — through fiscal 2017 — by moving all 18 RQ-4s to storage, but Schwartz and Donley said the Air Force hasn’t decided what to do with the money.
“So, you’re not sure what you’re going to do with that money yet?” subcommittee chairman Rep. C.W. Bill Young asked.
“That’s correct,” Donley said.
The Air Force’s strategic guidance on structure changes, released last month, states that the U-2 has better sensors, meets the new Joint Requirements Oversight Council force structure requirement and is viable through 2040.
Lawmakers, however, pointed out that Air Force officials had said the Global Hawk program was essential and the Defense Department has continued to request funding for them.
“It seems to be an about face,” Rep. Jim Moran, D-Va., said. “Over the last decade, the department has asked for and this committee has provided $4 billion.”
Schwartz said that while officials said at the time the program was important, those statements were made before Congress passed the Budget Control Act, before the threat of sequestration and before the JROC requirements.
“There were changes in the joint requirements for high altitude ISR that caused us to revisit how to meet those requirements with both of these platforms,” Donley said. “We could get this done with the U-2.”